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This Court Case Proves Why the Oxford Comma is Valuable

Stack of dictionaries on a deskStack of dictionaries on a desk
Stack of dictionaries on a deskWIN-Initiative Getty Images/WIN-Initiative RM

Never again should the Oxford Comma’s power be doubted.

The comma is an optional one that is used before an ‘and’ or ‘or’ at the end of a list. It’s surprisingly controversial online, with its uses or lack of them being vociferously debated, but a labor court case has now settled the argument, CNN reports.

A group of dairy drivers in the dispute argued that they deserved overtime pay and the appeals court agreed with them. Why?

Because the guidelines setting out the types of work that don’t require overtime pay lacked clarity. The case turned on one particular extract:

“The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.”

The lack of an Oxford comma between “packing for shipment” and “or distribution of” meant that it was unclear whether the guidelines meant distribution and packing for shipment were separate things, or whether the exemption applied to jobs involving either packing for shipment or packing for distribution.

According to the court, the dairy drivers in question only distributed but didn’t pack perishable food, so weren’t necessarily covered by the clause. The judge added that where such rules are unclear, labor laws are structured to benefit employees, so the dairy drivers won.

“For want of a comma, we have this case,” the judge wrote.

Sorry Internet, you’ll have to find another piece of punctuation to argue over.